More than ten years ago, I got my first Pokemon game on the Gameboy Advance — Pokemon Ruby. Between sneaking it into school, playing on the bus on the way home and using every spare minute on long car trips hunting for and catching Pokemon, Ruby was the first game that I put more than 100 hours into playing. Little did I know at the time, it also taught me how to read Braille.
Anyone who has ever endeavoured to complete their Pokedex in Ruby or Sapphire (or Emerald, or Omega Ruby, or Alpha Sapphire) will have encountered the intricate puzzles that the player must solve in order to catch three of the rarer legendary Pokemon in the game — Regice, Registeel and Regirock.
For those who aren't a completionist like me, it goes a little like this: the chain of events that leads to catching these three Pokemon begins in the Sealed Chamber, a secret room accessible by using the move 'dive' in a certain spot in the middle of the ocean. Here we encounter our first Braille message — or 'Pokemon dot language', according to Google's related search terms.
Each Braille message tells you to do something in order to progress to the next section — it could be anything from using dig in a certain spot to having two particular Pokemon in your party. The only common thread was that they were fairly obscure instructions, not something you'd be likely to happen upon by accident. Naturally, they demanded translating.
Back when I first played the game it was possible — though not common — to look up game walkthroughs and cheats on the internet. So I worked through those puzzles the old-fashioned way — with a pencil and paper. One of the mysterious stone tablets in the Sealed Chamber supplied the entire alphabet in Braille, and from there it was pretty easy to create a guide for translating the rest of the messages.
And translate them I did, including the (relatively) huge, 144 character message that wasn't even related to any of the puzzles, but simply added a juicy bit of lore about the legendaries I was about to catch. I translated that one just because I could. By the end of that little puzzle section, I had referred back to my translation chart so many times that I could read the 'dot language' without actually looking at it. The puzzle had been such a fun one that a nerd like me wished there were more puzzles in my Pokemon game that would let me use my knowledge of the dot language again.
It would have been only a week or so later when I encountered the dot language again — only this time it wasn't in the game. This time, it was on a sign at the train station that I was reading as I waited for my train home. I was amazed to realise that I could decipher the entire thing, thanks to Pokemon.
Later Pokemon games FireRed and LeafGreen also used Braille for a couple of puzzles, and this time the game came with a Braille chart and a short message explaining that the language would be used in the game: "During your adventure you may see some special patterns (dots) on the screen. These special patterns are called 'Braille'. You might discover more Pokemon secrets if you learn to decode Braille.
If you look closely and pay attention, you might even see Braille in your home town!" While the latter sentence led to a number of players combing through Pallet Town in hopes of a secret Braille message, it was referring to the exact experience that I had had — finding and reading Braille in my real life hometown.
When I was going through school, 'gamification' wasn't a buzzword, but it was already integrated throughout the school system. Every second skill that we were meant to learn had been clumsily shoved into a game, most of which ended up a more painful way to learn than doing it the old-fashioned way. But while zombies couldn't make me learn to type, and space invaders couldn't force me to like maths, Pokemon still managed to trick me into learning Braille.